It’s looking like 2007 again, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Green Bay Packers offense is back on track. Aaron Rodgers played the gunslinger role effectively, and Ryan Grant is finally playing like he did late last season. It was make or break, do or die, win or go home, in a sense. The Packers were playing aginst divisional the rival Chicago Bears, and they had to beat the Bears to keep the NFC North title in their reach. A loss and a drop to 4-6 wouldn’t have been too good, but luckily the Packers came through big.
After two tough losses, the latter very dissapointing and poorly played, the Packers asserted themselves as the powers they were last year. They didn’t just get by the Bears, who were a game ahead of them–they destroyed them 37-3. Out of all of the people that even picked Chicago to lose, barely any of them (if any) predicted a blowout like this. Kyle Orton was back under center, Matt Forte was running hard, and to top it all off the Bears beat Green Bay twice last year when they went 13-3! Now they were facing a 4-5 team that was struggling with the run, hitting a few bumps with the pass, and giving up tons of ground on the run defensively. This game proved that pre-game analysis and “on paper, this team should win” doesn’t decide every game. Many things that were supposed to happen didn’t happen, and vice versa.
Looking at the numbers going into the game, Forte was looking good for fantasy owners. He was going up against a run defense ranked 28th in the NFL. They Packers also lost linebacker Nick Barnett for the season with a ligament tear. Everyone was in for a surprise, though, when Forte only had 64 yards on 16 carries and never reached the endzone. Who could have expected the Packers defensive to step up that much on the ground? Orton had to go up against one of the best pass defenses in the league, so with Forte shut down the Bears’ offense didn’t really have any legs to run with. Orton only threw 50% with under 150 yards.
Flipping over to the Packers’ side of the story. They were the exact opposite of Chicago. Grant, inconsistent throughout the whole season except the week before (when he ran well against the Minnesota Vikings), was facing a team with a defensive ranked in the Top 5 at stopping the run. Rodgers, on the other hand, would be throwing into one of the NFL’s worst pass-stoppers. Unlike the Bears, though, the rush and pass did great on Sunday. Rodgers went 23-of-30, throwing for 227 yards and two scores. Grant looked like the Ryan Grant of 2007, not the one we’ve been seeing so far. He rushed for 145 yards and had a trip to the endzone on 25 carries.
This game just gave the Packers a huge boost of momentum. Not just the normal feeling a team gets after win; this game meant something. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beating the Vikings, Green Bay is in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC North with Chicago and Minnesota. That would seem like a toss-up to the casual fan, but Green Bay is the clear-cut, bet-it-all, if-I’m-wrong-let-me-be-struck-by-lighting pick to win this division. The way they played in Week 11 looked like the way they played all last season. If a young face wasn’t behind the facemask of the quarterback, it would be an exact copy. Minnesota, on the other hand, relies on Adrian Peterson to spark the offense, and teams (including the Packers) have shown he isn’t invincible. Chicago? This game should end all talks for their NFC North bid.
Yes, playing the way they are would make the Packers a hard team to stop, but they’re far from unbeatable and better not get overconfident. The upcoming schedule will throw some problems at them. On Monday Night Football they face the New Orleans Saints, who have the league’s most powerful passing game and a mediocre running game. The Saints’ offensive production will depend on the answer of two questions: 1) Who will play better: the Packers’ pass defense or the Saints passing game, and 2) Who will play worse: the Packers’ rush defense or the Saints running game? New Orleans’ defense is very weak and it should be a field day for Rodgers and Grant, but Green Bay’s defense has to realize they need to stop Drew Brees to finish with a big win.
After that they face the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are like the Bears: a weak passing game with a good ground attack. Their record, at 8-2, makes them seem like one of the NFL’s biggest teams, but Carolina really hasn’t been getting a lot of spotlight. The reason the Panthers have a better record than New Orleans’ 5-5 mark is that their defense can actually stop teams when they have to. They’re fifth-best at stopping the pass and middle-of-the-pack when it comes to the run.
If Green Bay can pull off wins against both of these teams and achieve a 7-5 record, they could be sitting at the top of their division alone. Right now they just need to take it one game at a time and play every game like it is do-or-die. Why? Well it obviously worked last week.